While researching events during WWII for my humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, and Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, I found some interesting facts about life in the USA during World War II:
Rationing: Because vital supplies were needed for the troops, ration stamp booklets were issued to American housewives. Many items including meat, sugar and fresh fruit were in short supply and could only be purchased with the appropriate ration stamp.
Due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee and sugar to the USA during part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed to one pound per adult every six weeks. (This alone was reason to go to war.)
Eggs were in short supply and costly, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. See Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv Amazon $3.99
Tires: A citizen was allowed to purchase only five tires during the entire war. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but despite a 35 mph national speed limit, bumpy roads and poor quality rubber led to multiple flat tires. Doctors and public safety professionals were allowed additional tire and gasoline stamps.
Gasoline was rationed to four gallons per week per adult. Folks relied on car pool, buses, bicycles or walking. Men working out of town often boarded away from home and came home only intermittently.
Such shortages of food and other supplies led to black market ration books or ‘arrangements’ between friends willing to sell stamps they didn’t need.
Victory Gardens: Citizens appeared unpatriotic if they didn’t plant a victory garden. Suburban front yards were soon converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Vegetables with a high yield requiring limited growing space became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday meals. Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.
Watch Towers: Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack on the West Coast, and the limited availability of newly discovered radar technology, volunteers became the ‘early warning system’ in watch towers every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline.
Train Travel: Though trains traveled all the way across the U.S.A. there was no direct line and travelers often had to change from one train to another, with hours long layovers of hours or days between connections.
These events are highlighted in both of my novels. In Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, Agnes must take the blame for the destruction of a watch tower in order to prevent a 'top secret' from going public.
In the novel Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier www.http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb Amazon $3.99 Agnes and Katherine travel from California to Washington D.C. to accompany Mrs. Roosevelt on her Pacific Island tour. Carrying a package to the President she believes contains secret war documents, it is no surprise to encounter a man she believes is a Nazi spy. When she is witness to his ‘committing murder,’ she is sure she will be next on his hit list.
Join Mrs. Odboddy on her hysterical romp across the USA. Filled with laugh and suspense, you will enjoy a bit of history along the way.
About The Book
Asked to accompany Mrs. Roosevelt on her Pacific Island tour, Agnes and Katherine travel by train to Washington, D.C. Agnes carries a package for Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt.
Convinced the package contains secret war documents, Agnes expects Nazi spies to try and derail her mission.
She meets Irving, whose wife mysteriously disappears from the train; Nanny, the unfeeling caregiver to little Madeline; two soldiers bound for training as Tuskegee airmen; and Charles, the shell-shocked veteran, who lends an unexpected helping hand. Who will Agnes trust? Who is the Nazi spy?
When enemy forces make a final attempt to steal the package in Washington, D.C., Agnes must accept her own vulnerability as a warrior on the home front.
Can Agnes overcome multiple obstacles, deliver the package to the President, and still meet Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane before she leaves for the Pacific Islands?
Mrs. Odboddy: Undercover Courier is a hysterical frolic on a train across the United States during WWII, as Agnes embarks on this critical mission.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
Agnes dodged puddles across Wilkey’s Market parking lot, struggling to balance her purse on her wrist, her umbrella and a bag of groceries under each arm. She lowered her head and aimed for her yellow and brown 1930 Model A Ford, parked two rows over and three puddles down. Why hadn’t she let Mrs. Wilkey’s son, George, carry out her bags when he offered? Maybe Katherine was right. She tried to be too independent. No harm in accepting a little help from time to time. Let the kid experience the joy of helping others.
As she approached her car, a black Hudson slowed and stopped alongside her. The passenger door opened and a man stepped out.
“You Mrs. Odboddy?” He ran his hand over his bald head. A scar zig-zagged across the back of his hand.
Agnes’s stomach twisted. “Depends. Who’s asking?” She took two steps closer to her Ford. “What do you want?” Her gaze roamed the parking lot. Not a man in sight, except the thug blocking her path toward her car.
The man reached out and grabbed her arm. “You’re coming with me!”
Blood surged into Agnes’s cheeks. She caught her breath. Wouldn’t you know it? Kidnapped in broad daylight and not a gol-darned cop in sight! No wonder, with every able-bodied man off fighting the war, leaving defenseless women and children victims of rapists and murderers. In less time than it took to come up with a plan, she dropped her grocery bags, wielded her umbrella and smacked it across the man’s shoulders.
“Hey! What’s the big idea? Smitty! Give me a hand. The old broad’s putting up a fuss.” Scar-Hand snatched the umbrella from Agnes and shoved her toward his car.
Oh, good grief. What shall I do?
Smitty ran around from the driver’s side.
Despite her struggles and a few well-aimed kicks, the two scoundrels shoved Agnes into the back seat and tossed her umbrella onto the floorboards. “Don’t give us any trouble, Mrs. Odboddy,” Smitty growled, rubbing his shins. “Like it or not, you’re coming with us.”
Agnes scooted across the mohair seat, huddled into the corner as far as she could get from Smitty’s leering grin. “What do you want with me?”
Smitty and Scar-Hand jumped into the front seat. Smitty gunned the engine and the car lurched through the parking lot toward the street. He glanced over his shoulder. “Don’t try any funny business, lady. The chief asked us to bring you to him, and that’s where you’re going."
Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot
Since the onset of WWII, Agnes Agatha Odboddy, warrior on the home front and self-appointed scourge of the underworld, suspects conspiracies around every corner, stolen ration books, Nazi spies running amuck and a possible Japanese invasion off the California coast.
Mrs. Odboddy vows to bring the villains, both foreign and domestic, to justice, all while keeping chickens in the bathroom, volunteering at the Ration Stamp Office and knitting argyles for the boys on the front lines.
Imagine the chaos when Agnes’s long lost WWI lover returns, hoping to find $1,000,000,000 in missing Hawaiian money and rekindle their ancient romance. In the thrilling conclusion, Agnes’s predictions become a reality when Mrs. Roosevelt unexpectedly comes to Newbury to attend a funeral and Agnes must prove that she is, indeed, a hometown patriot.
Mrs. Odboddy - Hometown Patriot is a riotous romp through a small California town in the days following Pearl Harbor when American housewives fed their families with rationed food, and volunteered for multiple war-effort projects. From serving on the coast watch to collecting papers and cans, all the while exposing local conspiracies and spies, Agnes Odboddy is the quintessential hometown patriot.
Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier. Planning to join Mrs. Roosevelt on her Pacific Island Tour, Mrs. Odboddy and Katherine are asked to hand carry a package to President Roosevelt in Washington D.C. Sure that the package contains ‘secret war documents,’ Mrs. O is fully prepared to fend off Nazi agents on her train trip across the USA. Her fears are more than realized by characters she meets on board. Once in Washington, she may yet be the target of another Nazi agent. Will the unscrupulous behavior of J. Edgar Hoover finally terminate her career as a home front warrior? With Agnes Agatha Odboddy on the job, there is no end to the intrigue and laughter as she meets each challenge with wit and wisdom!
Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot and Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier are available at Amazon in e-book ($3.99) and paperback ($16.00) If you want to buy a book, click on the url below and it will take you to Amazon
Amazon: Hometown Patriot http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv
Amazon: Undercover Courier http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb
www.mindcandymysteries.com (Elaine’s website)
Elaine.Faber@mindcandymysteries.com (Elaine’s email)
The public is invited to a book launch party at the Elk Grove Fine Arts Center, 9080 Elk Grove Blvd, Elk Grove CA on March 11, 2017 at 2:00 P.M. to celebrate the publication of Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, Elaine Faber's fifth cozy mystery/adventure novel.
Regular price: $16.00 Special book Launch price $10.00
. Refreshments will be served.
Mrs. Odboddy Undercover courier is the sequel to Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot.
In this WWII humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy is asked to carry a package to President Roosevelt. Agnes is sure it contains secret war documents. She expects to encounter Nazi agents will try to steal her package. Along the way, she meets new friends as well as some unsavory individuals. An expected event puts her mission at risk and aid comes from an unlikely source.
Once in Washington, D.C. Agnes runs afoul of J. Edgar Hoover and his illogical hatred for Mrs. Roosevelt.
Undercover Courier is a fictional story with elements of historical facts tossed in for an enlightening, amusing and entertaining story.
Elaine is also the author of three cozy cat mysteries. Black Cat's Legacy, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, and Black Cat and the Accidental Angel. These books will be available and specially priced at the book launch party.
All of Elaine's books are available at Amazon in e-book for $3.99.
Research while writing my WWII humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, and Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, led to interesting facts about how folks lived during WWII.:
Rationing: American housewives willingly gave up their precious food, clothing, tires, and other goods to aid the war effort. Ration stamp booklets were issued and many items including sugar and fresh fruit could only be purchased with the appropriate ration stamp.
Due to blockades affecting Brazilian ships attempting to bring coffee and sugar to the USA during part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed to one pound every six weeks per adult. (This alone would be reason to go to war, wouldn’t it?)
Beef was in short supply and costly, as well as eggs, resulting in many resident chickens in suburban backyards. (In Hometown Patriot, Agnes obtains six chickens. Because she has no chicken coop immediately available, she puts them in the bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?)
Tires: A citizen only had ration stamps for five tires during the entire war. By today’s standards, that sounds sufficient, but bumpy roads and poor tires led to multiple flat tires even with speed limits of 35 mph.
Doctors and public safety professionals were allowed additional tire and gasoline stamps. Gasoline required ration stamps and folks were limited to only four gallons per week. Folks relied on car pool, buses, bicycles or had to walk. Men who worked out of town often had to board away from home for indefinite periods of time. (I am the result of my father’s weekend only visits while Daddy worked at the Vallejo, CA Mare Island shipyard. Whoops!)
Such shortages of food and other supplies led to black market ration books or ‘arrangements’ between friends willing to sell extra stamps for highly desired items. (Because of weekly trips to the USO to serve cookies, Agnes has to purchase a friend’s tire stamp. She also discovers a ration book conspiracy and sets out to expose the culprits.)
Victory Gardens: Many items in short supply were rationed. Citizens were almost required to plant a victory garden or appear unpatriotic. Suburban front yards were soon converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Vegetables with a high yield requiring limited space to grow became the main ingredient of Meatless Monday. Even Mrs. Roosevelt planted zucchini in the White House Rose Garden.
Watch Towers: Ever fearful of another Japanese air attack on the West Coast, and the limited availability of newly discovered radar technology, volunteers became the ‘early warning system’ in watch towers every several miles along the California and Oregon coastline. (Agnes has an exciting encounter while serving at the watch tower in Hometown Patriot. You won’t want to miss this! )
Can you share an account of a WWII event or experience? Are you acquainted with a family member with memories of WWII? Wouldn’t they enjoy reading my novels? Only $3.99 at Amazon. Guaranteed to produce a chuckle or your money back!
Mrs. Odboddy–Hometown Patriot -Available in e-book and print at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv Agnes attempts to expose a ration book conspiracy and deals with the return of an old WWI lover.
Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier –Agnes travels across country by train, carrying a package to President Roosevelt. She is sure it contains secret war documents, and NAZI spies will try to steal her package. Amazon – http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb
Next time, I’ll talk about another WWII event or experience.
Announcing the publication of my latest Mrs. Odboddy mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier.
It’s 1943 and Agnes and Katherine are preparing to accompany Mrs. Roosevelt on her Pacific Island tour. Agnes carries a package from Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. Convinced the package contains secret war documents, Agnes expects Nazi spies to try and derail her mission, but she is determined to protect the package and put it into the President’s hand, whatever the cost.
Before leaving town, however, she has to find a place for those gol-darned four bantam roosters–- Myrtle, Sofia, Mrs. Whistlemeyer and Mildred!
Agnes and Katherine travel by train to Washington, D.C. Along the way, she meets Irving, whose wife mysteriously disappears from the train; Nanny, the unfeeling caregiver to little Madeline; two black soldiers bound for the Tuskegee airbase to train as pilots, and Charles, the WWII veteran with PSTD who lends Agnes an unexpected helping hand when things go exceedingly wrong. Who should Agnes trust? Who is the Nazi spy? Is there even a Nazi spy or is it all in Agnes’s imagination?
In a final near deadly showdown In Washington, D.C., Agnes faces a formidable challenge and is forced to accept the possibility that she isn’t the hometown warrior she always thought she was.
Can Agnes overcome multiple obstacles, deliver the package to the President and still meet Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane before she leaves for the Pacific Islands? If you’ve read Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, you’ll know that she will do everything in her power as the scourge of the underworld she thinks she should be.
Mrs. Odboddy -Undercover Courier is available at Amazon in paperback and e-book on February 9, 2017.
As a special treat to my loyal fans, and WWII mystery buffs, the first Mrs. Odboddy novel, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot will be FREE at Amazon between February 9-13.
I'd love to hear from you. Did you enjoy Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot? Would you like to see more of her adventures?
In 1987, my daughter and I traveled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I kept a diary during that two week journey. Here are the entries from Salzburg, Austria.
Walking through the streets of Salzburg is like walking back into history. One sees houses with flower boxes, painted scenes on the exterior walls of the buildings, church steeples, roofs of clay tiles and bell towers. The streets are cobbled and many of the windows are made of leaded glass.
There are vineyards up on a nearby hillside and an ancient ivy covered building with sagging tile roof across the courtyard lends a medieval flavor to the view. Church spires peak out above the red tile rooftops on nearby houses and unconsciously we scan the faces of the passersby, perhaps expecting to see Mary Poppins. Dates carved on the churches range from the year 1200-1400. One church is said to be 1000 years old.
A kitty sits atop a nearby rooftop, meowing piteously, as tourists peer up and try to decide if he is stuck, hungry, or just bored and teasing the tourists.
We drive along a river and follow a road up the side of a grape-laden hillside to the very top. Below us, a park follows the curve of the river. We can see the tiny train below and churches steeples scattered among the rooftops. A storm is brewing and the sky darkens with rain clouds as we stand atop the mountain, looking down over the city which for hundreds of years is unchanging.
Yes, as modern times came, freeways and electric wires approached the city, the merchandise sold in the stores has changed, and automobiles replaced the horse carriages, which once clip-clopped along the cobbled streets. The narrow lanes remain the same, the lovely churches, fortresses, palaces, and hillsides are unchanged. The city will tolerate progress but it will not give in to it. Our modern conveniences are an intrusion on its medieval splendor.
Visitors from the United States marvel at the unchanging and apparently timelessness of this beautiful country. The land stretches out unspoiled as we compare it to our familiar busy cities. The mountains beckon hikers upward into the cold clean air. Though there are industrial areas, much of the land is still in its wilderness state, as it was at the moment of creation, lush and green and seemingly immune to modern marvels.
In the town of Salzburg, there is a town square where a street musician plays Ave Maria on a violin. Above us pigeons fly from rooftop to rooftop and the music echoes around the courtyard. I let my mind wander and it is easy to imagine the town filled with people coming and going up and down the tiny cobbled streets in horse drawn carts. Over here would be a peddler selling vegetables, and over there a princess is escorted by her ladies-in-waiting. Over here a group of soldiers march down the street, straight and tall, tired from slaying dragons on the hillsides.
Another day and music might have filled this same courtyard, not from the church but from the house down the street where a thin young boy named Mozart plays the harpsichord and writes melodies that will one day make him famous, even several hundred years later.
Over there a beggar sits by the church wall and begs for alms. Many pass him by, even as today, so many hungry people walk our streets and though we call ourselves “more civilized,” how many of us are guilty of turning away?
A horse cart clip-clops by, bringing me back to today as the last beautiful strains of Ave Maria fade into the sky. We give the musician money and move off down the street where we buy a watercolor painting of the church from a local street artist.
In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in considerable debt. Collection agency calls were daily occurrences. One month, I paid my house payment with the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.
That Christmas, we were financially challenged (as they might say now). We said we were "broke." No way was there any extra money for a Christmas tree.
My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set our few presents underneath.
Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it, calling it the Christmas Stick. They were embarrassed when their friends came to visit.
We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet, the kids had toys and we had a real Christmas tree.
I was thinking the other day that sometime in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the luxuries we’re used to, Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we walk in the footsteps of folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, who are without a tree, and without gifts. For that matter, maybe some are without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.
It’s been over fifty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. This Christmas Day, as our family stumbled from the table loaded down with ham and cookies and all the fixings and we gazed at our ten- foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled high, thought about the Year of The Christmas Stick. And we remembered its message.
We are grateful for the important things. We are blessed with our families, our health, our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with those who are in need. We remember that there are some folks who might think they were blessed to have a Christmas Stick with a few presents underneath, even if it was just sweaters and pajamas and sox, like my kids got that one year so long ago.
I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make good on our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and can't help but thank God for the opportunity to experience the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons that I hope we will never forget.
Once, in a faraway land, on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, a contented pussy cat, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of this morning’s breakfast mouse. She settled on a warm rock for a snooze in the sunshine near a group of shepherds tending their sheep. As the flock moved down the hillside, the bleating of lambs faded into silence. With her tail curled around her nose, Kitty fell asleep.
The twittering of a bird interrupted her catnap. Kitty’s eye peeked open. The tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this?
She slipped off the rock and inched toward the unsuspecting after-breakfast snack. Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range; distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches); wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast); thrust computed; muscles poised. She leaped.
The striped instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. At the last moment, she fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.
The white bird shrieked. “Wait! Don’t eat me I’ll make it worth your while if you spare my life.”
Much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, Kitty paused, curiosity being a trait of her breed, often quoted as being the method of her kind’s demise. “What can possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her left ear as she licked her lips and tightened her grip on the bird’s wing.
The white bird lifted her elegant head, and folded her one free wing against her quivering body. “If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will bring honor to you and all your descendants.”
Kitty loosened her grip and pondered the bird’s message. If true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the blessing was a ploy to escape. But, what did she have to lose? Intrigued, and frankly, still burping this morning’s mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time we meet, I’ll show no mercy.” She lifted her paw.
The grateful captive fluttered from her grasp. She circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over! I promise,” she cried and disappeared behind a puffy white cloud.
“A blessing! Indeed!” Kitty shook her body from nose to tail, dispelling the idea that she had been foolish to believe such a story.
As the stars blinked across the night sky, Kitty returned to town. She came upon a cave where cows and a donkey nodded, warming the area with their breath. In the corner, a lamb curled next to its mother.
Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb combined with the cows’ warm breath created the perfect ambiance for a long winter nap. Kitty was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep ambled down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward town.
Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She opened her eyes and saw a young bearded man who set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant in the straw where Kitty’s body had molded and warmed a circle of straw.
Kitty lay down beneath the manger, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the sudden activity in the stable.
The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother. He hovered nearby, brought her water and covered her with his cloak.
Shepherds from the hillside entered the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe.
Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. Wasn’t that the same bird she had freed that afternoon? Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the manger. Where the birds had rested, angels now hovered on each side of the Baby.
In the later hours, three men dressed in fine colored garments came to worship the Baby and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
When the worshipers had gone, in the stillness of the stable, the family slept, while the angels kept watch.
Kitty approached the angels and addressed the angel from earlier in the day. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One the world has waited for. I feel unworthy. The others brought gifts. I have no gift to give.”
“Kitty, Christ Child wants only the gift of our reverence and obedience. Tonight, you willingly gave up your warm bed for the Christ Child. In return you receive a great blessing you and your descendants can treasure for generations to come.”
Kitty curled her tail around her nose and began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birdsperhaps she would forgo that pleasure in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angelor when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none as great as the blessing she had received this night. The chance to warm the bed of the Christ Child.
In my soon to be published novel, Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, Agnes is asked to carry a package for Colonel Farthingworth to President Roosevelt. She rides a train from California to Washington D.C, convinced the package contains secret war documents. Along the way, she encounters perceived Nazi spies determined to steal her package. Of course, nonsense and misadventure prevails where ever Mrs. Odboddy is concerned and Undercover Courier is no exception.
Thinking about a cross country train journey reminded me of the abandoned children riders of the Orphan Trains during the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
Because of mass immigration, poverty, disease, and human tragedy, thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were ‘on the streets’ in New York City, selling matches and rags or stealing to survive. Older boys ran in packs and gangs, committing petty crimes or worse. The few orphanages were overrun with infants and small children.
In 1849, a Presbyterian minister, Charles Loring Brace realized the children needed permanent homes, work and education. Because workers were needed in the Midwest, he determined that the orphans and good Christian farmers could be united.
Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million abandoned babies and ‘street rats’ (as the older children were called) were boarded on trains headed for new lives in the country.
As good as this plan sounds, the consequences were debatable. The plan was to have town committees, pastors and doctors oversee the applicants to assure a good match between the children and waiting adoptive families. In some cases this worked well, in others, little oversight or follow through was given, to the detriment of the children.
The boys and girls would board a westbound train in groups of up to forty, accompanied by several adults. Circulars advertising ‘little laborers’ preceded them to the towns. The babies and pretty infants had the best chance of finding a good adoptive situation. Upon arrival to a town, the children were cleaned up and paraded into a local building, stood on a stage where they took turns giving their names, singing a little ditty or ‘saying a piece.’ The farmers looking for free labor then had an opportunity to prod the boys, examine their teeth and determine how suitable they were for the task needed, much like a slave auction.
Boys under twelve were ‘to be treated as one of their own children in matters of schooling, clothing and training.’ Boys from twelve to fifteen were to be ‘sent to school a part of the year,’ and given a stipend when they turned twenty-one. Older boys often ran away if faced with abuse.
In many cases, the children were far better off than if left in the big cities where their chance of survival was poor. Records show that Andrew Burke and John Brady, two Orphan Train boys, grew up to be the governors of North Dakota and Alaska, respectively.
In other cases, the children taken to the mid-west farms suffered emotional and physical abuse. Many children were used strictly as slave farm labor. Other children found fine families that loved them, and educated them.
Only the circumstances of the individual child could determine if the Orphan Train program was a success. Surely, left to the terrors of the inner city streets with no means of support could only have resulted in disaster or death for each child.
The Orphan Trains run until 1929 when a foster care program was instituted in each state.